Press Release / / 06.27.23

BREAKING REPORT: Wagner Group Captures African State as Russian Beachhead in Ultraviolent Terror Campaign

Breaking Investigative Report:

Wagner Group’s “Nightmarish” Blueprint for Domination Detailed as Central African Republic is Captured as Strategic Beachhead for Russia

Soldiers and militiamen report Wagner training in ultraviolent techniques, including how to cut fingers and legs, remove nails, strangle, throw fuel and burn people alive


June 27, 2023 (Washington DC / Bangui) – A major new investigative report released today reveals how Vladimir Putin’s “private army,” the paramilitary Wagner Group, has for years with the support of Central African President Faustin-Archange Touadéra been testing and perfecting a nightmarish “blueprint” for state capture, deploying orchestrated violence so extreme that even hardened national soldiers and local militias under Wagner’s control describe living in a state of terror.

The Sentry’s investigative report, “Architects of Terror: The Wagner Group’s Blueprint for State Capture in the Central African Republic,” maps in deeply sourced detail how, in just five years, the Russian mercenary group has coopted the presidency, amassed military power, and created a complex network of operations to plunder diamonds, gold, and other natural resources, establishing Russia’s most fully developed beachhead in its strategy of international expansion, control, and projection of power.

Nathalia Dukhan, Senior Investigator and head of the Wagner program at The Sentry, said: “The Central African Republic has become Wagner Group’s laboratory of terror. With a limited number of military personnel and the active support of President Touadéra, Wagner has managed in just five years to infiltrate and control CAR’s military chain of command, as well as the country’s political and economic systems. Russia has revealed its plan for psychological warfare and domination—a truly new kind of ultraviolent colonialism. Without urgent and coordinated global action to counter this threat, Wagner’s predatory terrorist network will continue to spread and sow devastation wherever it takes root.”

The Sentry’s investigation exposes the modus operandi that has enabled Wagner—with the support of President Faustin-Archange Touadéra—to exert significant control over CAR’s political and military leadership, as well as the country’s economy. The investigation team reviewed photos, satellite images, videos, and documents and conducted interviews with an array of firsthand sources, including victims and witnesses of atrocities, as well as members of the Central African Armed Forces and militias deployed in Wagner’s military operations.

In its investigation, The Sentry obtained evidence confirming the involvement of a who’s who of Wagner commanders and bosses, Central African soldiers, and militias trained and equipped by Wagner in perpetrating campaigns of psychological terror and actions that could qualify as war crimes and crimes against humanity. According to soldiers interviewed by The Sentry, the motto of their Wagner controllers is “leave no trace”—in other words, kill everyone, including women and children.

Charles Cater, Director of investigations at The Sentry, said: “Preying on instability and weak states, the Wagner Group has instrumentalized violence in an unchecked pursuit of economic resources and political power, with horrific consequences for civilian populations. Nowhere has this threat been more evident than in the Central African Republic, whose increasingly compromised sovereignty should serve as a stark warning to other governments in Africa and elsewhere. For those concerned with peace, democracy, and human rights, complacency is not an option.”

CAR had the worst death rate in the world over the last year, more than double anywhere else, according to a 2023 Columbia University report, which directly linked the scale of death to Wagner’s presence.

Selected excerpts from the report:

  • Wagner instructors delivered one- to six-month military trainings that included firearm training, hand-to-hand combat, and espionage, interrogation, and torture techniques. A member of the presidential guard who received this training told The Sentry, “It was a Russian instructor who gave the training … it included commando training, interrogation, aggressive techniques, torture, violence.”  To obtain sensitive information from their enemies, several trained soldiers and militiamen explained that they were taught how to cut hands, fingers, and legs; remove nails; use knives to cut flesh; strangle; throw fuel and burn people alive; organize targeted kidnappings; and more.
  • In field operations, Wagner’s mottos are “cleansing” and “sweeping,” according to multiple military sources sent on operations. Interviews conducted with Central African military sources confirmed that Russian commanders have been giving the order to “cleanse” or “sweep” entire herders’ camps, villages, rural areas, and—significantly—mining sites throughout the country.  Speaking of the “cleansing,” all the military sources and ex-militiamen said that they had to kill entire communities, including women and children. One military source explained, “We kill villagers only, we bury them, or we throw them in the bush.”
  • Taking advantage of Touadéra’s growing needs for security and protection, Wagner has increased its grip on the country’s valuable economic resources, particularly diamonds and gold, and has constructed a transnational network of companies and shadowy operations stretching from Russia to Madagascar, Cameroon, and Sudan.
  • While Wagner commanders and President Touadéra have justified Wagner’s presence as a means to hunt down armed rebel groups to protect the current regime, The Sentry found that Wagner has taken command and control of government armed forces, ordering them to kill women and children, deploy horrific techniques of torture, and execute “cleansing” campaigns to massacre entire communities that might get in the way of Wagner’s industrial-scale extraction operations. In interviews with The Sentry, soldiers involved in these activities testified that Wagner’s intention is to create terror and instill fear, not only among rebels but across the population at large and among the soldiers and militiamen under its control.
  • The Sentry has been tracking and documenting Russia’s expansionist strategy and Wagner’s deployment tactics in CAR for the past five years. When Wagner first set foot in the country in early 2018, CAR had been ravaged by 20 years of politico-military crises and cycles of deadly armed conflicts that the UN and Western countries had failed to adequately address. Taking advantage of the political and security crisis, Wagner has—in just few years and with a limited number of personnel—achieved almost nationwide sway in CAR.
  • Before drawing attention for its role in Ukraine in 2022, Wagner had already raised serious concerns about its presence in Syria and on the African continent, especially in the Central African Republic (CAR), Libya, Sudan, Mali, Mozambique, Madagascar, and Burkina Faso.
  • Beginning in 2016, national governments—with the exception of Libya, where Russia has sided with militia commander Khalifa Haftar—have signed bilateral agreements with Russia that have called on Wagner for the provision of security services in exchange for access to valuable economic resources, especially minerals. In other countries, such as Libya and Sudan, Wagner has infiltrated groups led by militia commanders Khalifa Haftar and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, or “Hemedti,” that it then uses to guarantee logistical facilities and financial gains.
  • Wagner-affiliated mining companies—primarily Lobaye Invest, Midas Ressources, and Diamville—have been granted mining licenses and export authorizations, and Wagner has been using its transnational networks in CAR, Sudan, Cameroon, Madagascar, and Russia to help set up industrial-scale gold production, thereby escaping national and international scrutiny.
  • The Sentry’s investigation, backed by UN reports, found that Russia also delivered heavy military equipment—weapons of war that had not previously appeared in the CAR conflict—including combat helicopters, aircrafts, ground vehicles, reconnaissance drones, and heavy weapons including 14.5 mm guns. Sources with firsthand information also told The Sentry that Wagner has been using landmines in CAR. The UN Panel of Experts on CAR noted that “deliveries of materiel in support of State security forces were observed at a pace unprecedented since the establishment of the arms embargo in 2013.”  While this response helped Touadéra and his Russian ally gradually regain control of major towns and strategic mining areas in the country—thereby protecting a pro-Russian regime—it also resulted in an unprecedented escalation of armed violence throughout the country.

Key recommendations in the report:

The international community—critically including African states—has an array of tools to counter Wagner’s malign presence in CAR, on the African continent, and more broadly around the world where the group is currently engaged or preparing to engage.

  • UN member states should establish a coalition similar to the Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh/ISIS—critically including African states—to counter the Wagner Group’s malign influence on the African continent and elsewhere by focusing on the group’s finances, movement of foreign fighters, and propaganda.
  • The United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Canada, Japan, and other jurisdictions should widen the scope of sanctions imposed against the Wagner Group’s network, including by investigating the individuals and entities named in this report. They should investigate and impose network sanctions against the individuals and entities linked to Touadéra’s inner circle that are enabling Wagner’s presence in CAR, and they should coordinate such sanctions actions to increase impact.
  • The US should designate the Wagner Group as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), as reporting by The Sentry and others clearly indicates that the group meets the three legal criteria for designation—a foreign organization engaging in terrorist activity that threatens national security.
  • The EU and its member states should add Wagner to the EU terrorist list to allow for greater law enforcement and judicial cooperation on Wagner across EU member states and beyond.
  • The UK should also consider taking steps to proscribe Wagner as a terrorist group under the Terrorism Act 2000.

Read the full report:


For media inquiries or interview requests, please contact: Greg Hittelman, Director of Communications, [email protected]rg

About The Sentry
(Short descriptor for press use: “The Sentry, an investigative organization that tracks corruption”)

The Sentry is an investigative and policy organization that seeks to disable multinational predatory networks that benefit from violent conflict, repression, and kleptocracy. Pull back the curtain on wars, mass atrocities, and other human rights abuses, and you’ll find grand corruption and unchecked greed. These tragedies persist because the perpetrators rarely face meaningful consequences. The Sentry aims to alter the warped incentive structures that continually undermine peace and good governance. Our investigations follow the money as it is laundered from war zones to financial centers around the world. We provide evidence and strategies for governments, banks, and law enforcement to hold the perpetrators and enablers of violence and corruption to account. These efforts provide new leverage for human rights, peace, and anti-corruption efforts.
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